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I am at the IRCE (Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition) ready to deep dive into how technology, big data and mobile is shaping our journey as consumers. As I traveled here, I reflected on this article from the Wall Street Journal ( Next Comes the On-Demand Sales Force subscription/login required) on how technology is being used to change sales. Statistics I’ve seen indicate that direct sales in the US are over $32 billion; a market that large is going to find ways to improve efficiency.
The article highlights companies (Universal Avenue and Upwork) that have developed mobile apps similar to the Uber/Airbnb model. The article provides examples of companies that are using these apps and why they moved away from having their own sales people. The article doesn’t suggest that all sales can be handled with applications, that there are high touch/high complexity sales that continue to require sales employees.
In some ways this is nothing new, freelancers or contract staff have been in involved in business sales for decades. I found these quotes the most interesting:
“His boss is an app. It considers Sven’s strengths and weakness as a sales-man….”
The more businesses Mr. Lilja reaches, the better his freelances can be at selling them things.”
This is the allure of the applications, the idea that as an owner or manager I can enjoy friction less selling. The reality is that managing people can be hard but coaching and feedback is important. Feedback from an app isn’t the best way for most of us to learn and develop. Additionally I and many others find working together physically often shortens the learning curve.
I have worked for companies that wanted sales coverage in geographies that didn’t support full time sales staff. I believe the concept detailed in the article works best to augment sales employees, to fill in geographies that a company otherwise wouldn’t pursue.
My opinion, don’t outsource activities that are critical to your success and I cannot think of a more critical activity than sales.